PCR tests: Have I got the virus?
The main test currently being used to identify who has the virus is a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test. This involves taking a swab from the back of your throat and from inside of your nose using a long cotton bud. You can be tested at a drive-through or a walk-through test site. In addition, home test kits can be delivered to your door so you can test yourself and your family without leaving the house. Please watch this video on how to do the test. The home test kits include simple instructions for how to mail your test back for analysis.
You can book a visit to a test site or order a home test kit here on the gov.uk website. You will be asked to provide your name and mobile number which is used to send your results. In addition, you need an email address to order a home test kit. If you do not have an email address, you can still get a test at a test site. If you have problems using the online service, please call 119.
Special provisions are made for Deaf people who can now communicate in British Sign Language while getting a test for COVID-19. When you visit a testing site you will see a sign telling you that you can use the new BSL Health Access service to help with communication during your test. Please download InterpreterNow app before you visit the testing site to be able to connect to BSL Health Access service. When you arrive to a site please alert staff that you are Deaf. You can show this image on your phone or print it before you go.
Healthwatch Camden has heard from local people that they are fearful of the PCR swab test – that it will hurt or it will be too complicated to do at home. We asked a Camden resident who has recently had a test using a home test kit about her experience, and she shared the following positive feedback:
“I wanted to have this test done because I experienced mild symptoms. I went online to the gov.uk website and I put in my details and my address. They also asked my NI number. I didn’t have it on hand, so it took a while to find. Two days later the test arrived. It was in an easy to read format and came with a clear instruction manual. There was a cotton swab inside the test tube and the tube had a little bit of liquid to preserve the sample.
The instructions told me to swab the back of my throat by my tonsils and then use the same cotton bud to swab the inside of my nostril. I put the cotton swab into the test tube and closed it and packaged everything back up to send it out. It was very easy, not painful at all, and it took 20 seconds. The return label was in the box it came in and it was very easy to post because it tells you to take it to the priority post box and not the post office. I took it to Camden High Street, and it was very easy for me.”
Who can get a PCR test?
You can get a test for yourself if you have coronavirus symptoms now (a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste). If other people you live with have symptoms, you can order tests for up to three of them. You can get a test if you have been told to have one before you go into hospital, for example, for surgery.
If you have coronavirus symptoms, please make sure to get a test done as soon as possible. The NHS guidance is that you need to get the test done in the first 5 days of having symptoms. On days 1 to 4, you can get tested at a site or at home. If you are ordering a home test kit on day 4 of experiencing symptoms, please do so by 3pm. On day 5, you need to go to a test site. It is too late to order a home test kit.
Antibody tests: Have I had the virus?
An antibody test is a blood test, and it is not widely available yet. This test picks up the presence of antibodies that the body develops to fight coronavirus, rather than the virus itself. It is hoped that this test will indicate possible immunity. However, there’s limited information right now on whether you are at risk of getting Covid-19 again, so it is still important for those people with antibodies to continue to stay safe by social distancing, wearing a mask when appropriate, and washing their hands.
Who can get an antibody test?
Antibody tests are currently offered to NHS and care staff, as well as some hospital patients and care home patients. Home antibody test kits are not currently recommended, as it has not been confirmed if they are safe and reliable yet.
Private COVID-19 tests
Some people do not meet the criteria for testing on the NHS and/or would like to take the strain off the NHS and pay for a private coronavirus test. If you don’t have any symptoms and need a COVID-19 test for travel or other reasons, you can pay for a test to be done at a private clinic. Some of the clinics that offer private COVID-19 tests in London are:
PCR swab test £199
Antibody test £109
Sample collection at Lord’s Pharmacy, 145 Park Road, St John’s Wood, NW8 7HT, Tel: 020 7993 8329
PCR swab test £165
Antibody test £165
33-34 Bury Street, EC3A 5AR, Tel: 020 3733 6789
13 Queen Street, W1G 9JH, Tel: 020 3553 9816
PCR swab test £250 (in clinic or at home)
PCR swab test £195 (mail order)
Antibody test £250
10A Upper Wimpole St, Marylebone, London, W1G 6LD, Tel: 020 3916 5990
Unit A and B, Churchill Place, Canary Wharf, E14 5RB, Tel: 020 3916 5990